Thursday, April 20, 2000

Chief of Naval Operations brings good news to Kitty Hawk

By Donovon Brooks
Guam bureau chief

PITI - Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jay Johnson was the most popular man aboard the USS Kitty Hawk on Wednesday.

Johnson drew cheers from 2,000 sailors crowded into the aircraft carrier's hangar deck when he cut his all-hands call short to let them leave the ship for the rest of their liberty.

Johnson's decision to let the sailors enjoy their last free day on tropical Guam drew almost as much applause as his announcement that the Kitty Hawk would not redeploy to the Persian Gulf.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Timothy Jones of Waco, Texas, said news that the ship was not headed to the Gulf was "the best thing that could happen. It would have been my third straight Gulf deployment," Jones said.

Johnson did remind the crew that he was aboard the carrier last year to inform them that the Kitty Hawk was headed to the Gulf to take the place of another carrier called to duty in the Adriatic Sea.

This week, however, he was not in Guam to bring similar news.

The admiral said he stopped only briefly in Guam before heading to Singapore. There, he said, he expects to sign an agreement to allow greater U.S. Navy access to that country's ports. The agreement is also a reaffirmation of the positive relationship between America and Singapore, he said.

Johnson said he visited the carrier because "I just wanted to say thank you."

Last year's deployment to the Gulf was an excellent example of forward-deployed forces being ready, flexible and mobile, the admiral told those in attendance. Members of Guam commands, including the USS Frank Cable, Naval Hospital and Commander, Naval Forces Marianas, also attended the session.

Because half of the Navy's 350 ships are underway, and a third are forward-deployed, there is relative regional stability and a feeling of security in the United States, he said.

"The Navy's relevance can't be overstated."

He also complimented U.S. Naval Forces Japan's decision to conduct pre-deployment readiness training on Guam. For the two weeks prior to the Kitty Hawk's arrival here, the ship's Carrier Air Wing FIVE trained at nearby Andersen Air Force Base. "I love what I'm hearing. Whoever came up with that is brilliant," Johnson said.

After this week's port visit, the Kitty Hawk and the air wing are headed for a two-month Pacific deployment.

The admiral touched upon issues facing the entire service: recruitment and retention.

He said recruitment was still a challenge for the Navy and Marine Corps, but both services are meeting monthly goals.

The Navy has met its goals for 18 months in a row, due to about 170 more recruiting sites. Recruiters have filled about 9,000 of 18,000 empty at-sea jobs in the last 18 months, Johnson said.

But retention figures aboard the Kitty Hawk "blew the CNO away," the admiral said.

Second- and third-term sailors were re-enlisting at a rate about 20 percent above the Navy's average, Johnson said.

Airman Robert Caldwell said he appreciated the admiral's visit.

"It's always good hearing from him, it's direct input, not rumor," said Caldwell, from the Guam-based Naval Helicopter Combat Support Squadron FIVE.